A Look Back At Met Gala Themes Over the Years

The 2022 Met Gala was held for the first time since the event was postponed in 2021 due to a pandemic. Exactly what is the theme of this year’s Met Gala? “In America: An Anthology of Fashion.”

Even though the gala draws a lot of attention and helps raise a lot of money, its significance extends far beyond the numbers in the bank and the number of likes on Facebook. This exhibition is a spectacular showcase of art as clothing and clothing as art, illustrating how both forms contribute to and shape our shared cultural identity.  Hundreds of sacred items from the Vatican were displayed in 2018’s “Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination.” China‘s impact on both Eastern and Western aesthetics was highlighted in an exhibition titled “China: Through the Looking Glass,” which took place a few years earlier. The over-the-top theatricality of “Camp” was explored in May of 2019.

Since Anna Wintour took over as chair of the Met Gala in 1995, we have compiled a timeline of the event’s annual themes for your perusal. Relive the night that changed the face of fashion in virtual reality.

An American Fashion Anthology, 2022

Based on the success of the “In America” theme in 2021, the Met Gala shifted its focus to “An Anthology on Fashion” this year, which the New York Times dubbed “Guilded Glamour” (hence the abundance of glittering evening gowns).  “The 2022 Met Gala will ask its attendees to embody the grandeur — and perhaps the dichotomy — of Gilded Age New York,” the publication explained.

The exhibition, curated by Andrew Bolton, head curator of the Costume Institute at the Museum of Modern Art, will highlight diversity and acceptance in the fashion industry.

In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, 2021

According to Vogue, Andrew Bolton, the head curator at The Costume Institute and the current holder of the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge position, said that the 2021 event was themed around the question, “Who gets to be American?”

It was first displayed on a red, white, and blue silk sash from Prabal Gurung’s tenth-anniversary collection. He made the point that American fashion designers are at the forefront of discussions about diversity, inclusion, sustainability, gender fluidity, and body positivity. It featured over a hundred pieces from American designers ranging from Marc Jacobs to La Réunion and was structured in a way that allowed the spotlight to fall on the industry’s up-and-coming talent.

met gala theme
met gala theme

Co-chairs Timothée Chalamet, Billie Eilish, Amanda Gorman, and Naomi Osaka, along with other attendees, dressed in accordance with the evening’s official dress code: American independence.

About Time: Fashion and Duration, 2020

In honor of the Met’s 150th anniversary, “About Time” looked back on a century and a half of fashion, but the 2020 gala was postponed indefinitely due to the pandemic. Orlando, the 1992 film adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel of the same name, served as a source of motivation for Bolton. Continuity is something that “I like about Woolf’s version of time,” Bolton said. “There’s no beginning, middle, or end. It’s one big fat middle. I always felt the same about fashion. Fashion is the present.”

Camp: Notes on Fashion, 2019

Inspiration for the 2019 show came from Susan Sontag’s seminal 1964 essay, “Notes on ‘Camp,'” in which Sontag describes a sensibility characterized by performance, excess, and a winking bad taste exemplified by figures like Oscar Wilde and outré aesthetic movements like Art Nouveau. Off-White, Schiaparelli, Moschino, Dior, Thom Browne, and many more designers had stunning pieces on display.

Heavenly Bodies: Fashion and the Catholic Imagination, 2018

Due to the year’s divine theme, hundreds of sacred artifacts were on display, including dozens of Vatican-sent relics (most of which had never seen the light beyond Rome). At the annual gala, guests dressed to impress, with Rihanna as the pope and Katy Perry as an angel among the notable outfits (wings and all).

Rei Kawakubo/Comme des Garçons: Art of the In-Between, 2017

The legendary Japanese designer Rei Kawakubo was honored at the Met Gala, where her “objects,” as she calls them, were on display. Guests’ attire varied widely; some, like Rihanna and Caroline Kennedy, wore themed originals while others took creative license with the theme to wear the work of other designers. Katy Perry and Pharrell Williams served as co-chairs for the event.

Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology, 2016

In 2016, the Met Gala celebrated a return to the future by placing technology front and center. Claire Danes’ luminous gown was the talk of the ball, while Emma Watson recycled five plastic bottles into a matching five-piece Calvin Klein Collection set. More than a hundred haute couture and ready-to-wear garments were on display at the exhibition, which explored the contrast between the handmade and machine-made fashion.

China: Through the Looking Glass, 2015

The 2015 gala’s theme, “fit for an emperor,” honored China’s impact on Western style. The exhibition, which featured Chanel, Alexander McQueen, and Christian Dior Haute Couture, was a collaboration between the museum’s head of the Department of Asian Art and the Costume Institute. George and Amal Clooney, along with Rihanna (who wore a stunning yellow robe by Chinese designer Guo Pei) were among the guests who got into the spirit of the museum night by dressing in theme.

Charles James: Beyond Fashion, 2014

An important but lesser-known fashion figure was honored by the museum. A hundred of Charles James’ most iconic creations were on display, making for a lively and highly anticipated theme. Ball gowns, both sleek and larger-than-life, were in abundance at the 2014 party co-chaired by Sarah Jessica Parker, Bradley Cooper, and Oscar de la Renta.

Here are all of the themes that have been used for the Met Gala over the past twenty years, ranging from designer retrospectives to supernatural observances.

2013: “Punk: Chaos to Couture”

2012: “Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations”

2011: “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty”

2010: “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity”

2009: “The Model as Muse: Embodying Fashion”

2008: “Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy”

2007: “Poiret: King of Fashion”

2006: “Anglomania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion”

2005: “The House of Chanel”

2004: “Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century”

2003: “Goddess: The Classical Mode”

2002: No theme

2001: “Jacqueline Kennedy: The White House Years”

2000: No theme

1999: “Rock Style”

1998: “Cubism and Fashion”

1997: “Gianni Versace”

1996: “Christian Dior”

1995: “Haute Couture”

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